Chapter Five: a Tempo
Scully raced up the stairs and through the door to Mr. Chang's waiting area, her heart pounding in her ears. The ill-tempered secretary narrowed his eyes at her.
"Mr. Chang called you and your partner into his office right after you left. Did you get lost on your way to the loo?" Scully ignored him and strode quickly toward the door and rapped sharply.
Scully walked in and hastily closed the door behind her. As she turned to face the occupants of the room, she realized she was still gripping the baton she'd stolen from Mr. Black, or whomever he was. She plastered a smile on her face and extended one hand toward Mr. Chang while she discreetly slipped the wand into her pocket with the other.
"Dr. Scully, it's a so nice to meet you. Mr. Mulder was just telling me that you will be meeting Dr. Wei for lunch after our meeting. How perfectly marvelous!"
Mr. Chang had Dr. Wei's infectious smile and firm handshake.
"It's an honor to meet you, Mr. Chang. You must be very proud of your daughter. "
Mr. Chang beamed. "Please, call me Liangru. Yes, Cho is really special, although I'm a bit biased."
Mulder was looking at Scully oddly, taking in her flushed face and slightly disheveled appearance. To Scully's relief, he made no comment, but turned to Mr.
Chang. "I imagine she hasn't had an easy time of things, especially with the epithet 'wunderkind' following her wherever she goes."
"Very true. It was much easier for her before she was entered the accelerated Ph.D. program. Nobody knew or cared how old she was when she was writing on her own. All that mattered was the quality of her work. Of course," he looked purposefully at Mulder, "anything that sets one apart from the norm results in harsh criticism of everything one does. Which brings me to the two of you. I'm sure you'd like to know exactly what I'm hiring you to do."
Scully was about to respond, but Mulder beat her to it. "I assume it has something to do with an unexplained death or two."
Liangru looked shrewdly at Mulder. "All in a day's work for the two of you, so I've been told." He handed box of papers to Mulder. "Have a look."
The photo on top of the stack elicited a grimace from both. The corpse in the picture, or what was left of it, was unlike anything either of them had ever seen. The skeleton was in tact, but what remained of the connective tissue, organs, and skin seemed to be hanging limply off the bones. Large sections seemed to have melted away. The body was lying on a bed of shredded cord of some kind.
"I can see why you didn't want the police involved in this," commented Scully. "Was it a laboratory accident of some sort? The soft tissues seem to have been in contact with something extremely corrosive."
"There are remains of the cord sticking to some of the wounds. The body was covered in them. The corrosive material doesn't seem to have damaged the cords.
Whoever wrapped the body knew what he was doing. There's a spider cult in the jungles of South America infamous for human sacrifices. They wrap the bodies in rope to emulate the spider's method of killing."
"First of all, this isn't South America. Secondly, no known aboriginal tribe has the desire or technical capacity to manufacture a compound this nasty. The body looks like it's been soaked in phenol! Look at the complete disintegration where the compound came in contact with soft tissues."
Liangru's voice broke into their discussion. "Before I lose you both the investigation, I'd like you to have a look at your contracts and see if everything is to your satisfaction."
Mulder winked at Scully. "So is it your turn or mine to look over the paperwork?"
Scully smiled feebly and Mulder began scanning the contracts, occasionally asking Liangru a question about their entertainment budget, which was something they had never had in their previous investigations. Scully absently flipped through the rest of the documents in the box, but her mind was sifting through what she'd seen and how on earth she could present it to her partner. How could she explain the strange lab? The glowing glassware? The doors? The door. How long would it be until Mr. Black came running through the door to Liangru's office? What would he do to her when he found her? How would she explain her curiosity and subsequent folly to Mulder? To Mr. Black, if she saw him again? Sorry I kneed you in the family jewels. Here' your stick back. I'm sure it must have great sentimental value. Just please don't turn me into a toad. She pictured the baton floating in midair when she'd interrupted his summoning. Summoning? It was like a bad fantasy novel gone wrong. It was like black magic that clouded her normally scientific mind. She shook the word "magic" forcibly from her head, and suddenly noticed Mulder looking at her, eyebrows raised in anticipation.
"Sorry, what was that?"
"I said, 'Do you want to pop down to look at the body after lunch,' but we can start tomorrow if you're that tired."
"Yes." She was grateful for the excuse to exit the premises. "We'll just be getting back to the hotel."
Liangru's brows knitted in concern. "I hope you feel better soon, Dr. Scully. If I could get your signature," he indicated a form and handed her a pen, "you'll have free run of the building starting tomorrow morning at 8. I'll see you down to the lobby?"
"No, don't trouble yourself. We'll be fine." She stood to leave, but paused. "May I use your phone to postpone lunch with Cho?"
"Of course, let me ring her." Liangru pressed a few buttons and handed the receiver to Scully.
"Iber's lab, this is Cho."
"Hi Cho, it's Dana. Do you think maybe we could do lunch tomorrow instead of today?"
"What? Don't tell me Liangru's got your working through lunch already!"
"No, but the long flight is really catching up with me. Besides, we'll have clearance for the whole building tomorrow."
"Good, that means you can take me to the places I'm not allowed."
Scully smiled. "You're on. See you tomorrow."
"Let me see you off! I've got another 20 minutes worth of reaction to sit through. I'll be in the lobby in a few."
"See you then."
Scully turned to Liangru. "I apologize for not being myself today. However, it was a pleasure to meet you, and I look forward to working with you more tomorrow."
"Not a problem, Dr. Scully. I'll be answering most of your questions tomorrow after you've both had a chance to look through the file." He handed her a business card and shook her hand. He shook Mulder's hand in turn. "Since you both work for the FBI, I'm sure I needn't lecture you on the importance of keeping this work classified."
Mulder grinned roguishly. "Funny, most people use our working for the FBI as an excuse to lecture us on the importance of keeping things classified."
Liangru laughed heartily. "I shall see you both tomorrow morning. Perhaps if I have an appetite after the morning's proceedings I'll join you and my daughter for lunch, as long as she doesn't mind having her old fogey father hanging around."
They laughed, Scully halfheartedly, and took their leave. Fortunately, the surly secretary was no longer behind the desk. When the door to Liangru's office was closed, Mulder turned to Scully with concern.
"What happened in there?"
Scully felt her face get red. "I can't really explain it, Mulder. So many strange things have been happening since I've been here." She pulled the wand from her pocket. "What do you make of this?"
He looked at it skeptically, examining it from all angles. He twirled it in his fingers, then began waving it about dramatically. "I could be the next Leonard Berstein with this, don't you think?"
Scully snatched it out of his hand. "Mulder, this is important!" She had to make him understand. "I'm positive that it's a weapon of some kind, though it appears to be triggered by-"
"A weapon? What are you going to do, poke somebody's eye out?"
Scully's face grew darker. This was exactly what she was afraid of. He wasn't taking her seriously. No matter how patiently she listened to his hair-brained ideas about South American spider cults, it always came down to his him making fun of her and her taking it. But not this time. This was her observation, and her sanity.
She felt the infamous Scully temper bubble up dangerously. Scully tried to calm herself and clenched the wand tightly. "Mulder, if you'd just listen for a minute-"
"No, I know! You can use it to fling underseasoned hors d'ouvers at your opponent, adding unsalt to injury!"
"MULDER!" At her frustrated shriek, a red light shot out of the end of the wand, shattering a vase of flowers on the receptionist's desk.
Mulder stared at the smoldering flora, then at the wand in Scully's hand. Feeling self-conscious, Scully stuffed the wand back into her pocket. The baton felt the same as it ever had, cool and perfectly smooth, but her hand was tingling. She raised her eyes to her partner's.
"What was that?"
"What I've been trying to tell you."
"You have a vendetta against birds of paradise?" His words were flip, but his eyes were serious.
She ignored that, emboldened by his earnestness. "There's been something very strange going on since we got here. At first I thought I was imagining it. But it's real, Mulder. The windowless doors? They're real. I went into one. It was like something out of the Middle Ages, with bubbling cauldrons and everything. A man working there saw me and tried to zap me with this," she patted the wand in her pocket resolutely, "but I managed to get away. He's looking for me. Whatever else this thing does, he's going to want it back." She grabbed his wrist. "We need to get out of here now. I'll tell you more when we're safe. We've got to get out."
Mulder looked unusually sober. "So we should avoid the elevator, then?"
"You're only supposed to avoid elevators during fires, Mulder." Relief undercut her admonishment. He believed her. More importantly, he understood.
When the elevator doors closed, Scully sighed in relief. Mulder came up beside her and rubbed his hand in small circles around her shoulder blades. "Almost there, Scully. Now we just need to find Dr. Livingstone to lead us across the lobby."
She was finally able to laugh.
When the elevator opened into the lobby, they noticed Dr. Wei waiting for them beside the security desk. "Sorry you have to go so soon. I was looking forward to palming off some number crunching on one of the interns."
"Me too. Not tormenting the interns, I mean having to go."
Scully and Mulder handed in their guest identification tags and were following Cho toward the doors when their attention was drawn to a couple of men shouting at one another across the lobby from the desk.
"Kind of messes up the feng shui, doesn't it Scully?"
Scully stiffened in recognition. One of the men was Mr. Black. The other man's face was flushed as red as his hair. The sun from the skylight glinted off his glasses… Percy?
Mr. Black spotted her and immediately started advancing on her. "You there! Stop!"
Percy was on his heels, hissing, "Leave this to me. This isn't your place!" He called to Scully, "Dana, please wait. There's been a bit of a misunderstanding, but everything will be fine once we-"
Both men stopped short at the sight of Dr. Wei. Dr. Wei returned the unflattering stare.
All three began talking at once.
"What on earth?"
"What are you doing here?"
"I thought you were-"
"This is a scientific institution. You two have no right to be here-"
"What on earth would you know about it-"
"I'm here on official Ministry business and am required to report-"
"Sod the Ministry! You can't just walz in here waving your reports-"
"It's imperative that you leave me out of your report of this-"
"Or me! Dabbling in Muggle science could lose me my Avalon grant or-"
"You would stand here and claim you don't know about what is going on at this institu-"
"But I have mention it in my accident report, or the inaccuracies-"
"Haven't changed a bit, have you Weasley-"
"Neither have you, greasy git-"
"Peabrained, pompous, pencil-pushing-"
"Slimy, selfish, supercilious-"
"You two! Name calling isn't going to solve a thing-"
"This is none of your concern. My research was disturbed when-"
"YOUR research? Since when does the Brisbin Institute support research of your ilk-"
"Oh, your poor research. You were the one that startled her into doing wandless-"
"I startled HER?"
"Wait a moment, you mean she's a-"
"I should take you both in for interfering with an official Ministry-"
"Shut up, Percy."
"Shut up, Weasley."
"IF ONE MORE PERSON TELLS ME TO SHUT UP-"
"Shut up, Weasley."
"THAT'S IT! Former teacher or not-"
Sure enough, the two agents were nowhere in sight.
Dr. Wei looked shocked. Percy looked outraged. Severus Snape began to laugh softly.
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